cookbooks
The Stories Behind the Shots: How to Cocktail Edition
Three members of the creative team behind our first-ever cocktail book share behind-the-scenes stories about their favorite photos.
09-26-2019
Danielle Lapierre

For our new cookbook, How to Cocktail, the America's Test Kitchen books team spent months developing new takes on cocktail classics and creating unique drinks you've never seen before. Once the test cooks finalized the recipes, our design team took over, finalizing all the visual details to take the recipes from the kitchen to the page. This creative team consists of food stylists, art directors, and photographers who work hard to make these liquid subjects as beautiful as possible. And when you work this closely with these gorgeous drinks, you're bound to have a favorite photo or two.

I spoke with three key members of the team that brought this book to life: art director Lindsey Chandler, food stylist Elle Simone, and photographer Steve Klise. I asked about their favorite images from a book full of photography that transports you to a different place each time you turn the page. Keep reading for some stories from the set, including what went into each of the photos and what makes each of them so special.

Bookstore

150 Foolproof Recipes How to Cocktail

The first-ever cocktail book from America’s most-trusted test kitchen includes essential, canonical classics; twists on old favorites; and brand-new test kitchen creations. 

 

Manhattan

Manhattan

Steve Klise: This is an outtake from a session with the Manhattan, one of the very first things we shot back in July last year, and it ended up being our cover. Everything about this shot came together. I was basically just turning myself loose on what I could do with lighting. There’s all these highlights on the cherry, the edge of the glass, and the stem of the glass. None of the shine is Photoshopped, it just came together naturally.

We have this awesome, syrupy cherry dripping this perfect drip off this small little wooden spoon. It had actually been hovering there for a while, if you look closely you can see the syrup at the bottom of the glass. But this was just a case of we knew we had it early. After this shot Lindsey, Elle, and I just all sort of looked at each other and said “Yup, that could be something.” 

Highlander

Highlander

Lindsey Chandler: For this one, I remember asking Steve, “Can we use the windows in some way?” And he said “I’ll make my own window.” As soon as he set it up I knew it was going to work great. We did a lot of these where you can see the glass reflection. But this one was interesting because we usually did it with beverages that are more see-through and this drink is more opaque. So you have a really strong shadow. This was one where we had a particular vision, and it turned out even better than we had imagined.

I also love how the garnishes play together. I’ve never seen it done like this. We were in our second half of shooting, so I was a bit worried on where we could go with garnishes, but Elle pulled it out and it is just so pretty. You really have a sense of place. which is something we explored throughout the book. 

Hibiscus-Guava Agua Fresca

Hibiscus Guava Agua Fresca

Elle Simone: I like this one because it is a super tasty drink and it is one of our nonalcoholic offerings. I liked having the opportunity to dress it up just as fancy as our alcoholic drinks. It reminds me of a Caribbean vacation. This was taken midway through shooting and I was getting to a space where I was running out of ideas with garnishes and I was trying to make this drink look chic and beachy at the same time. That was my inspiration. Though these weren’t perfect ice cubes, I think the imperfections really made the drink stand out and look extremely refreshing. This drink brings you to a very relaxing place.

Dark and Stormy

Dark and Stormy

SK: We dropped a lot of citrus for this book. I got really lucky because there is such an inherent dynamic element to working with liquid. Whether it is a pour, or splashes, or the way liquid moves around an ice cube. This was my favorite citrus splash that we did. It was hilarious—I think we went through three limes to get this shot. Elle would be standing there next to the set and I couldn’t see her. I could only see the drink. And she would count me in and I would just hit the motor drive. You could only really get three frames in the time the citrus went into the glass. Sometimes you would hit the rim or you would miss completely. So when we finally got this one, everyone in the studio just started celebrating.

Fireside

Fireside

LC: This was another one where I was just like, “What else can we do?” So I decided to just hold it. And Steve just had the vision, and did it. The glow off my hand is amazing and even though there’s no background there’s a sense of place.

Aperol Spritz

aperol spritz

SK: I used a strobe to illuminate the back to really show what is going on in the glass. If you really want to make the glass glow you have to light it from the back. I wanted something to make this feel special, so I used another strobe to get this shooting-in-from-space effect.

To have a successful cocktail photograph, your drink has to be pretty fresh. We would build one drink and shoot through it to find out what we wanted to do and then we would build another for the final shot. Especially if you're adding carbonation, there is nothing like that first fizz. We didn’t even notice the bubbles at the top of the glass until we were looking at the shot afterwards. At first I thought it was dust on the screen, and then I said “Nope, that’s effervescence.” That’s my favorite part of the shot, the effervescence. I also love the fact that the garnish is standing straight up. We tried to get it to do that later and weren’t successful, it was like a one-in-a-million kind of thing.

Celery Gimlet

Celery Gimlet
We chose this glass because its etching mimicked the celery leaf. It is so subtle here, you can just see it through the lip of the drink. —Lindsey Chandler, art director

ES: This drink is one of my favorites because it was such a refreshing, delicious surprise. We used a silver surface that mocks the kitchen tables we have in the test kitchen, and it is not a surface you can use all the time. Sometimes the glare of it is distracting. The way Steve was able to block out some of the extra space and use the light to his advantage was great, and the drink is still very well lit—it needs to be because of the greens in it and the drink itself being very light. You can tell it is in a coupe glass because you get a shadow of the stem along the table. Also, the size of the drink itself is captured here. The celery leaf is very small so if you think about it in relation to the glass, it is a small drink. You will never be overwhelmed by the celery when drinking it. 

Old Poblano

Old Poblano

SK: One of the things we wanted to do here was to focus on a sense of setting like we’ve never done before. This photo feels like it is 5 o’clock and you want to be somewhere. We wanted to give a south Florida or Cuba vibe to this drink. We have this old drafting table we use as one of our surfaces. We usually only use one side because the other side has an inscription, but that helped us here. We thought that would bring a feeling of oldness and it makes you feel like you’re on a porch or near the beach. And its really the prime expression of what we could get away with when it comes to creating atmosphere.

LC: It was interesting because we used a surface in a way we have never used it before. It is a surface we use all the time, but we use the other side. We noticed the date on the back and thought it delivered a sense of time and place. All the pieces just came together, like that glass with the subtle design, it feels very Old World. Steve made the lighting work. There’s actually a lot going on, with the long shadows, and the intricate garnish and interesting glass. But it is still about the drink somehow. But even more than the others, you can just picture yourself somewhere with it.

ES: Whenever we shoot that board with food we always try to hide the numbers so this was the one time where we decided it was the perfect time to use it. It goes to show this drink can be anywhere—it could be after work, it could be wherever you imagine.

Scorpion Cup

Scorpion Cup

SK: This one is fun because, one, it is on fire. But also because it is one of those moments where we gave the entire studio to the shot. I knew we were going to have to keep the lights low so I could capture the very dim flame. So we lit up two or three electric tea lights, we got into the vibe we wanted to send, and started playing some old vintage Hawaiian records. And a bunch of people walked in and found us in the dark, surrounded by a bunch mini tea lights, watching this rum floater burn on top of this ridiculous tiki mug, listening to ukulele music in the middle of winter and they all said, “I want to be in here today.”

Holiday Punch

Holiday Punch

SK: We didn’t have much glassware when we started shooting this book, so we had to borrow glassware from people around the office. But we ended up buying a few giant punch bowls and it was a big discussion on what we wanted to do with the punch bowls, and then Holiday Punch ended up being the only shot in the entire book where we actually ended up using one. And I am looking at it from above and noticed it is all just berries and mint leaves and floating bubbles. So I thought “Why don’t I just fill the frame with that?” And we ended up going with this shot. I just thought it was hilarious that after all that wrangling over the punch bowls, we ended up going with the shot where you can barely see it.

Negroni

Negroni

LC: This was one of the first photos we shot and I think this just encapsulates what I was going for with this book; it is exactly what we set out to do. It came out beautifully. It is so simple, the glass looks amazing, the drink looks delicious, everything looks fresh. But it is also attainable; it’s not perfect. There’s the long shadows coming through the glass but you also have those reflections on the super simple surface, really letting the drink and the color of the drink be the star.

Practically Clear Ice

Practically Clear Ice

SK: One of my favorite people in the world, senior editor Joe Gitter, went down a rabbit hole trying to create the perfect ice. We would walk into the freezer and just see blocks of Joe’s ice. We were still finding some of it a few weeks ago. He did such a good job, but then we had the challenge of trying to photograph and light something that is practically clear. So I spent more than a couple of nights laying awake wondering, “How am I going to do this?” But the way I ended up lighting it, a lot of the flat side opposite of where the light is coming from would just light up and give you that sense of dimension. And since there were so few impurities, the ice actually melted very slowly. The hardest part was actually stacking them.

Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise

ES: This was one of my favorite styled shots in the whole book. It was one of the first few we shot and I had never shot cocktails before. In the time I spent prepping for this and doing research there are so many festive garnishes out there, and I wanted to do something that would make the drink stand out. We were sent extra fruit for the shoot and one of the grapefruits was two-toned, so I thought that would be interesting to work with. I used my paring knife and started playing around with different shapes and this is what I got, almost accidentally on purpose. I think about shapes a lot when styling. You can see the vanilla specks in the rim sugar so I was thinking about shapes that go together and the idea of having lots of different circles throughout the image all made sense to me. It is another one of those clean, refreshing beverages. There is a nice gradual transition of color, and that’s how the drink tastes, you get a gradient of flavor. It starts with the sugar from the rim, then the grapefruit, and finally the vodka. It is a flow.

Fruits of the Forest Liqueur

Fruits of the Forest Liqueur

SK: For this shot we decided to pour the drink into a snifter glass and see what happened. So, Elle counted me in and I shot through the pour. We knew it was going to look great because of the color, but to the degree to which you stare through different amounts of this liqueur, you get this whole spectrum of reds, pinks, purples, garnets, and blacks. I love the twist of the pour and the wave along the edge of the snifter. I’m not even sure if this pour stayed in the glass, but if it did, it barely stayed. But in terms of the way you can watch liquid move, this shot captured it perfectly.

Cocochai

Cocochai

LC: This was one where I didn’t have a vision when I started but it just came out so good. The one idea we had going in was to get the shaving of the cinnamon, and to get that action. Then there’s the light that is coming through the glass, and it is capturing every single particle from the shavings. You get that warm feel with this warm drink and it is just magical. It was such a team effort. When one person didn’t know what to do, someone else would have a suggestion and we got to some magical places.

ES: And the tone here, picking the very brown board, with the very brown drink with the very brown topping. It is one of those cases where it will absolutely work or it won’t, and here it does.

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